Form Irrationalism

One of the most reliable conceits of human inquiry is the supposition that, at some point, we shall inevitably exhaust all there is to know; every possible form, every possible law to describe the interaction of those forms, and thus finally (excusing the recursive incompleteness of predicting one’s own future predictions) producing a grand, unified theory of everything. At present, that tendency has been most reliably expressed in physics, with the attempt to postulate Elementary Laws of Matter which, assuming everything is ultimately just the interaction of the elementary particles (or strings or waves or things or, whatever, exactly, ‘particle’ is itself an artifact of former physical theories, ahem), will allow us to explain everything constituted by these… elemental things as just the action of these elemental things.

Physics is only one example of this prejudice towards a notion of “knowledge completeness” (which, I note, cannot even be completely [and yes I mean that in the logical sense] defined). The same exact prejudice crops up in “theories of history” such as Fukuyama’s (in the most vulgar interpretation, but to be frank it’s hard to make it much more vulgar than it is actually presented) or Jared Diamond’s. Both presuppose a continuous and upwards ascent towards social forms which shall be simultaneously “freer,” “equaler,” “peacier,” “wealthier,” “liberallier,” so on and so forth for any buzzword which gives the progressive homunculus a boner. The narrative of Progress becomes its own etiology, indeed a full-fledged eschatology which fills that individual need to believe that his actions contribute to something greater than himself; it is the same need which the idea of an afterlife used to fulfill, only now it is displaced by an even more altruistic version in which it is supposed that our children (well, other people’s children, progressive wombs are conspicuously barren) shall inherit a utopia free from conflict, war, prejudice, crime, poverty, whatever else shall be eventually considered an intrinsic vice which condemns the totality of a society lest it devote all available resources to those problems.

This utopian eschatology is such a fixture of the individual Progressive’s weltanschauung that, to adopt the crude propagandistic narrative concerning the conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church, for want of a particular cosmological model that just seems to fit the religious sense better, any models which deviate from that divinely mandated anthropocentrism shall not only be purposefully overlooked, but any who wish to adopt that dissident model for their inquiries shall be considered heretics liable to be burnt at the stake. All that has changed is, in place of the Catholic Church, you have the ideologically vested interests of the Cathedral which promotes a utopian eschatology. To propose a historical model, particularly one which is but the extension of biological disciplines such as ecology, of human civilization which doesn’t neatly fit that equalicentrism is not only to invite ready refutation by the intellectual-journalistic elite, but professional embarrassment and career-ending scorn. But this is less a point about Progressive ideology (though it is no less important to see this point all the same) and more an illustration of how the prejudice towards “completed” bodies of doctrines skews social bodies away from perpetual disillusionment and nearer an inflexible, rigid orthodoxy.

In complete contrast to this prejudice for exhaustive knowledge, I propose that there would be nothing more disastrous than “completing knowledge.” To find and define an end of knowledge is to find and define the end of civilization. Whatever potential forms there may be in the world, they will be ultimately circumscribed by a limited space with limited potentials for the material therein. Assuming even the rosiest model of human ascent over the mastery of Nature and the entire universe, pressing up against the sheer limits of Nature entails the grandest and most wicked of Malthusian traps. Likewise, discovering that our universe is of a finite nature, with laws which perfectly describe all potential interaction, would probably be the clearest and most decisive proof that we inhabit a mere simulation.

What is a “law of Nature?” Put most accurately, it is a heuristical description of the tendency of some body’s way of acting. That any law is a heuristic, implying that it faces limits and, by extension, conditions under which that law fails to describe the particular body’s action, is at once intuitive and controversial. It is intuitive in the sense that the phenomena we tend to be aware of, and the cycles by which we are able to process the activity thereof, is always finite, and with additional information may need to be further calibrated. Consider Newton’s law of gravitation, which as a heuristic works perfectly well for describing the action of bodies within a reasonably human scale of reference; indeed, the unifying of the action of bodies on earth falling and the action of the sun, moon, and planets by a single description of the relation between motion, velocity, and mass is, until you realize no one had really ever supposed the activities of an apple and the moon might be described by a single law, quite an accomplishment. And, no less that being an accomplishment, the law is, at least if we take it as the attempt to describe the action of all potential gravitational bodies, false. But, as a heuristic subject to limits (which we are now, via Einsteinian physics, able to define), it is extremely useful. It is only at “extremes” (what counts as an extreme depends on your scale of reference, which tends towards the individual human’s) that we find these heuristics break down. To put that another way, if you zoom in or out then, at a sufficient distance, you will find the emergence of unique forms which the law could not have predicted. In other words, the universe exhibits, with respect to our place in the world, forms which are of an irrational nature.

The postulate of an elementary particle is just that, a postulate. It tends to be taken for granted that everything in the world is just the composition of simple forms, which is the fundamental expression of matter and below which no simpler form is possible. This is the atomism of Democritus, which saw a renaissance of approval with the social atomism latent in Calvinism (curious, these clusters of beliefs under a single ideology, but moving on), even leading to the naming of the simplest form of the elements arranged by Mendeleev into a systematic chart as “atoms!” But no sooner had the atom of Democritus been apparently discovered than had we moved on to speculating, attempting, and actually splitting the atom, releasing vast stores of energy as the smaller particles (electrons, neutrons, and protons) which composed the atomic form decomposed; in turn, those simpler particles were themselves eventually smashed together at extreme speeds (i.e. outside previously observable scales of reference) which provoked them to decompose into even simpler forms. There is nothing in principle which precludes the possibility that there simply is no simplest form, and given sufficient power to exercise observation at suitably extreme conditions, one would continue to witness ever smaller unique forms, forms which, and this is my point, cannot be predicted by theories describing the activity of the forms which those simpler forms compose. In other words, forms exhibit irrationality.

And this not only in the physical sense. For sufficiently long periods of time, for sufficiently large masses, for sufficiently high-energy conditions, so on and so forth, wherever a new extreme is reached what laws proved themselves apt to describing and predicting the behavior of forms at that scale of reference shall be limited and useless for describing the activity of forms outside their particular scale of reference. Notice that in no sense is this an argument which depends upon going further down. Even our laws which portend to describe the activity of atomic and sub-atomic particles (and waves, strings, and things) cannot be suitably scaled up; our physicists fudge on proposing how our ability to describe very small things coheres with our ability to describe very large things. Apparently, the random activity of sub-atomic particles simply “averages out” when it comes to the apparent stillness and predictability of forms at the human scale, but even the stillness and predictability of forms at the human scale doesn’t appear to have any predictive power over the activity of things many magnitudes larger.

Our language is simply limited to what we are (personally, everyday lived experience) acquainted with. Keeping this in mind when we formulate descriptions of causal interactivity of large scale entities we in no way have a consummate or remotely complete acquaintance with (e.g. societies) is of crucial importance, and the failure to account for this seems the most frequent error of the Enlightenment. The presupposition that our reason is Reason, that we are able to model, simulate, and subsequently regulate anything we happen to give a name is intellectual hubris. Knowledge begins, and ends, with elaborating on the breadth of our ignorance about anything other than what we know, i.e. conclusions produced from reliable knowledge-forming processes, these always being a mechanism which operates from directly lived experience.

Every Man a Philosopher-King (and Other Delusions)

I’ve made some initial inroads on a new book. The purpose of this book shall be to present, if not a “more accessible” version of neoreactionary insights, at the very least an argument structure which appeals to the background of a classical education. It shall delve into the metaphysical underpinnings of describing and producing social order especially, and explore, apart from the egalitarian assumptions of the Enlightenment, the values which a society could potentially, and perhaps should, attempt to maximize.

One of the questions which the book shall attempt to answer is what constitutes the concern of political philosophy. Modern political philosophy, with its emphasis on individual rights and lack of recognition of the primacy of society over the individual, might be considered a failed endeavor to extend the egalitarian assumptions first explicated in Protestantism and undergirding the ideas of “canonical” political philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and so on.

As such, I’ve decided to take a two week break from writing here and also my Twitter in order to incentivize myself to get to writing this book. I intend to give frequent updates to my Patreon donors (and I can promise you’ll be in dignified company) as I produce drafts for the book (hint hint), but I will return here at this domain to elaborate more on my crazy theories about language use and social theory, so have no fear. In the meanwhile, below is a small preview which hopefully illustrates the overall theme of the book.

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Political philosophy has an acutely weird fascination with individual rights. It would appear that the idea of “rights” owed to an individual by some society has taken on an increasingly narrow yet overpowering attention in the discourse of politia. Politia is, of course, but the study of order in society. Given there are a wide plurality of rights concepts, indeed a wider plurality of political philosophies which owe no use to rights, the centrality of rights in the cultural milieu, whether that be the popular culture as exemplified by MSNBC and Huffington Post or academia is something which demands an explanation. The individual is not obviously the central focus of political philosophy; if we are concerned with the order of society per se, then the individual plays a subsidiary role to the whole. What, then, to explain the dominant role of the individual in modern political philosophy?

Even developing politia so that the individual takes on a less central role in our culture and institutions is a difficult task as one must first undermine the confidence and fixation on the individual. It tends to be taken for granted that of course political philosophy is about the individual, and of such an insidious form that this presumption is never accurately diagnosed and discussed for its own merit. What if it were the case that politia demands the benefits and comforts of the individual can only be an afterthought, mere luxuries afforded by fortune but certainly never to be expected as the norm? Such a view does seem to reflect the more everyday life philosophies of pre-Industrial societies, in which the norm was toil or die. Our expectation of luxury for the individual, of making society be about “living standards” and “social justice” is entirely contingent on the ability of society to continue producing at an abundance which is an extreme deviation from the historical norm, a deviation which lines of reasoning from Darwin, Malthus, and Galton suggests we shouldn’t expect to stay with us. Is a political philosophy that is blind to the material constraints of scarcity, the difficulty of cultural cohesion and cooperation, and the task of civilization even properly a political philosophy at all?

This is a dangerous question, as it suggests that the overwhelming majority of political philosophy that has been developed in the last century has been a complete waste. I wish I could be more generous, but when peruses the books and papers, the virtual entirety are concerned with what society owes the individual. The question of what the individual owes his society is completely foregone and overlooked. It might appear that the question of what the individual owes his society is discussed, but this only ever in the context of how that individual, as a part of society, owes other particular individuals. There is what men owe to women, what the rich owe to the poor, what whites owe to blacks, but these are always subsidiary questions to what women are owed, what the poor are owed, and what blacks are owed. There is no sense in which what is owed between individuals is treated as equivalent and, in the Aristotelian sense, equitable.

Justice, as Aristotle defines it, is equality. And what is equality? It is not treating individuals, regardless of their characteristics, whether innate or cultural, the same. Great ideas demand greater attention; why would this not be so for great men? Yet all political philosophy is concerned not with giving what greatness is owed, but what is owed to the least of us. The modern obsession with equality has not only failed to serve it equitably, but has completely inversed it. Why is this important? What does this mean for society? Our ideas of justice, of social order, and so on are principles by which we organize our social and legal norms, and those norms influence the behavior of individuals to the outcomes they have. The concepts cannot be explored and engaged in without a due reverence for the actual effects they have on society, including most especially how they lend to that society’s resiliency or fragility. Yet the abysmal ignorance and disdain shown by political philosophers for the most basic precepts of economics, sociology, psychology, biology, and tradition are the rule rather than the exception (and even within these fields, the dominant political philosophy has a tendency to inform rather than be informed).

What is the just ordering of society? What is the summun bonum of civilization? What is the good of the individual, within this context? These are questions we cannot explore without disregarding what we have been told we are supposed to be concerned about; we must disregard the poor, the weak, the feeble-minded. These are, after all, not the entirety of society, and it would be a disaster were they to become so. Would it be wrong to implement social forms which not only mitigate the evils associated with these groups, but would serve to prevent them from harming the overall fitness of society? If it were, must we allow the least among us to hold back the greatest, to ultimately veto the haphazard project of civilization and prevent progress, or worse?

What if a society of philosopher-kings were more than a silly fantasy, but a dangerous delusion? When one surveys the touted ideals and ostensible benefits of public education, the notion of a democracy dependent upon a society of individuals versed in liberal education repeatedly comes to the fore. There is this idea that everyone ought to be versed not only in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but should also be able to adroitly engage with literature, politics, art, history, myth, religion, and the other hallmarks of a cultivated intellectual life. Why? It certainly isn’t because it’s been demonstrated that this is in any way possible, for the clear record of public education is that such a standard is impossible to attain. The backpedaling to “But oh if only it were better!..” is no helpful reply, as that has already been the guiding philosophy of socialization in the American West since the beginning of the 20th century. Perhaps it is time to shrug our shoulders and admit that the success of reality TV and junk food is a cultural deficit indicative of a biological deficit. We are willing to entertain the notion that some people just aren’t capable of quantum physics or high level mathematics, but such a notion suggests that many people also aren’t capable of the basics of the social sciences which would lend credence to the idea of a well-functioning democracy hand-in-hand with a universal education. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of people are not cut out to be philosopher-kings, and extending them a level of privilege and responsibility apt to that status will destroy not only them, but all that civilization has accomplished up to this point in time.

The task of ordering society rightly cannot be accomplished without putting political philosophy back together. To do that, we shall have to begin at first principles in order to get at the notion of how anything is rightly ordered per se, so as to apply these general principles to the specific form which is society. So we shall suspend the question of society temporarily in order to explore the notion of order per se.

Memetic Decay

In my last post on linguistic rehabilitation, I coined the term memetic decay to refer to the phenomena of words declining in specificity as the barriers to using those words in a way which earns reward (e.g. most frequently, social integration, or the approval of one’s perceived peers) falls. In order to get at the concept of a word falling in specificity, and thus potentially declining to a point that it has no single good use in any potential discussion, we need to examine the varying virtues of function which a word might potentially fulfill.

It is more difficult for an object-level word, at least in it’s literal, or object-level use, to fall into a decline of specificity without the introduction of evolutionary changes in the objects meant to be specified. My favorite example, that of ‘coffee,’ presently has a clear object-level use, but upon further examination it is easy to see the potential for ambiguities to be introduced as new real world creations made by and associated with coffee beans are developed, in which case it is not that the word has declined in specificity for any change in the way the word is being used by a population, but simply that what it referred to changed. Coffee can potentially decompose into further subcategories such as dark, light, espresso, decaffeinated, black, and so on; for proof, just consider that if someone asks “What are you drinking?” there are situations where “Coffee,” is a suitable answer no matter whether it is a light or dark roast. On the other hand, there are also situations where it does matter, but the presence of these situations does not per se mean the word declines in specificity provided the way it is used by a population retains specificity across scenarios where the suitability of greater or lesser specificity in denoting some object is required. Concretely put, “coffee” is many situations the best use word, but there are also situations where it isn’t specific enough, and the best use of the word in a situation might be “espresso coffee” or “decaf coffee.” But as a general rule, we see that the more object-level oriented a word is, at least at some instantaneous moment of time and use, the less likely it is to fall in specificity simply by introducing the use of the word to more people. (Even people who are rabid non-coffee drinkers [God forbid, I know] don’t misuse the word  ‘coffee.’)

Nonetheless, we perceive that as concrete realities evolve, there is the potential for a word in its older use to lose specificity for a simple lack of tracking the change of that which it refers to. Another observation, then; the more a word is tied to concrete realities, then the more that concrete reality may change, the more the use of that word must change to reflect that changing reality if it is to retain the same level of usefulness in populations. Some sets of things have very little change over time (e.g. external human features), while some experience great change over time (e.g. scientific theories). If it helps to grok why the changing reality is such an important feature in the specificity of a word, suppose you were a time traveling Terminator trying to fit in with local time cultures which needed to have a dictionary of languages which would fit not only the use of English found in the year 1990, but also in 1940, 1840, and 2390. You would hate to use certain words in a way which might give away that you’re not a local (consider the word ‘nigger’ and the many different ramifications it could have contingent on place, group, and time).

Another feature, relevant to the rate of change of a word. There are certain communities in which a word’s use might change rapidly without losing specificity; these will tend to be communities which are able to produce a high ratio of instances of potentially verifiable use to the size of the population through whatever mechanisms of interpersonal exchange are available to it. A gang could enforce fast changing use of words if it were the case that being able to use enough exosemantic markers tied to that gang’s clique language was a determinant of membership. The same kind of mechanism is in place for professional communities of theoretical scientists; see how the physics community/ies maintains a highly specific use of words by requiring of its members the ability to routinely demonstrate an understanding of the group’s agreed use of words. Communities which lack such an enforcement mechanism will thus be subject to very few potentially verifiable uses of a word, and so the changing use of a word will exemplify a higher degree of inertia; that is, a higher rate of change entails continuing change even as attempts to “pin down” the use of a word go on, which only help to further the change of the word. This “conflict over use” is just like any other conflict over how some resource in the world shall be used, and as language is a resource, it is no exception to this. Conflict engenders conflict; “memetic de-escalation” requires the production of an imbalance of power so that there is lessened potential for profit through conflict (Moldbug’s Law of Power Asymmetry, in other words). This suggests a number of strategies one might pursue for producing those imbalances, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

An instance of potentially verifiable use, I note, is to be distinguished from mere instance of use, as those uses which are, situationally contingent, unable to be verified to have some more or less specific meaning. In my ‘coffee’ example the use is highly verifiable, as the process of verifying an agreed use of the word ‘coffee’ by myself and the barista can be accomplished through the very simple method of pointing and describing the qualities of coffee. Then there are words which are almost exclusively used in a context in which producing that verification is either impossible or precluded (e.g. try and get leftists to consistently define and use the word ‘racist’). Likewise, the strength of the individuals in a given attempt to develop verification depends upon the success of previous verifications, as previous successes illuminate heuristics for producing those conditions which bring the parties to verifiable instances, i.e. means of checking that they’re using the words in an agreed way. The more that is done to limit the potential for verification concerning the use of a word, the fewer instances of potentially verifiable use there will be and thus the specificity of a word suffers (see motte-and-bailey doctrine).

The above suggests a formula which we can use to measure the specificity of a word’s use. Where specificity is S, n is number of instances of potentially verifiable use, v is previous verifications, P is population, r is the rate of memetic change, and α is abstractness (higher value means more abstract), we have:

S = nv/log(P)rα

I’m making the assumption that population must increase by a magnitude to have an effect on specificity proportional to that of the other variables, but given this isn’t intended as a strictly quantified model, it is enough to see how these values have an effect on the overall specificity of a given word particular to a specific use. Greater specificity in this case entails a greater set of behaviors may be implied and agreed by the use of a word, while lower specificity entails greater ambiguity about behavior. Note that no single word, by itself, has a great amount of specificity, but through association with other terms in a given context, the overall specificity of a sentence can, even if the individual terms tend to have low specificity in other sentences, be exceedingly high.

Memetic decay can be achieved by anything which lowers n or v and increases P, r, and α. When, over time, the specificity of a word falls, we may say that it has been subject to memetic stresses which fell outside the scope of the mechanisms used by its previous population/s to enforce agreement and thus preserve specificity. Concretely, keep in mind that “populations” denote anything from “the population of a given country” to “the population that frequents this bar every Friday night.” In general, smaller populations can maintain stricter mechanisms, but larger populations, facing a greater severity of collective action problems concerning the use of words, may be unable to maintain those mechanisms and thus the specificity of the word falls over time, potentially becoming a word with a high memetic inertia and which fails to have any good use except insofar as it happens to be aligned to some verbally insignificant (but not necessarily existentially insignificant) sign.

This leaves us with two questions. What can be done to maximize specificity? If specificity is a normative value about the use of words intended to solve the collective action problem of clear communication for the purposes of interpersonal exchange, what are other normative values about the use of words? These are questions for future analysis.

Linguistic Rehabilitation

In order to rehabilitate a mind poisoned by years of indoctrination and all manner of excesses of memetic assault on critical thinking, a detoxifying process must be undertaken which seeks to analyze how the poison was originally administered in order to develop an anti-venom. This must also be predicated on an understanding of what would constitute useful instruction, rather than mere indoctrination. To get at this, we need a theory of linguistic development.

We learn to use language through conditioning; the correct utterance is articulated, a reward is provided in some way. The reward does not need to be material per se, and frequently isn’t. The most common reward is plain social integration, such as when parents give enthusiastic praise to their infant for pointing to their nose at the word ‘nose’ or when a teacher compliments a student for articulating some mathematical idea. In just the same way we learn how to use language to articulate positive ideas, we learn to express normative ideas in the same way, with reference to our most approximate moral authority being weighted over others, which tends to be parents, pastor, teacher, and whatever other figure a person is able to pick out for themselves. Whether because that person is bound by familial relation or is just “cool,” that person’s authority over the correct use of language for describing and prescribing the world influences that person’s development of linguistically articulated (is there any other?) normative theory.

There’s a catch to this model of language use, as it predicts the more complex and abstract a particular concept, and thus the less “concretely grounded” it happens to be, the easier it is to get away with bending the use of those words to suit demands not aligned with the way those words are used in technical, moral discussion. It is hard to misunderstand what we mean by concepts such as “coffee,” “sandwich,” and “game,” as anyone who fails to understand these concepts initially is presented with these exact instances in their everyday lived experience that their language use is bound to press up against that misuse, and their use shall be summarily corrected by those around them and he shall improve his social integration by adopting the use of that word which best suits his linguistic community’s needs (with respect to language, a kind of linguistic capitalization as it were). Dumb people can grasp “coffee” easily, but that does not mean they will grasp a concept which predicates a set of specific relations between sets of beings, such as “money.” (A dumb person will understand that the US dollar is money, since anyone will point that out to him, but he might not recognize that other scenarios which involve highly liquid goods traded on the basis of their value as a liquid good is to be imbued with a monetary property; he might trade cigarettes in prison without ever realizing that he’s participating in a monetary form of exchange.)

The opportunity to drum into people series of phrases which connote a particular and specific meaning which it would otherwise take a philosopher to unpack is extraordinary, and beyond that, impossible to not exploit. There’s little to no effective mechanisms in a teaching environment for providing the tools of ensuring that someone is actually getting a concept beyond their ability to parrot back words to a sufficiently understanding-like degree, and how could there be given there has essentially been no rigorous model of language and knowledge distribution which would allow such measurements to be performed. Again, the task of measuring someone’s understanding of “coffee” is easy, but how are you to measure their understanding of multidimensional, highly abstract concepts such as “honor” and “valor” which denote a range of actions contingent on their relation to environmental conditions (consider the use of a gun; there are many uses which aren’t honorable, and a few that are, but “using a gun” is not an essential feature of ‘honor’)? Likewise, there is the problem of coincidental knowledge verification; a teacher incapable of effectively measuring his student’s understanding (tests very crudely measure this, but they don’t select out this particular problem)(and this is essentially all teachers, by the way) is yet likely to leave the impression on a student capable of passing tests that the student in question has an understanding, especially since the teacher has told the student that passing the test equates to understanding (rather than being, at best, an approximate and inexact measure).

And so the number of individuals in society who sling around rhetorically powerful and deeply connotative words like “love,” “liberty,” and “rights” proliferates all while their use, no longer restricted to discussions with high barriers to entry which would otherwise secure those fields from memetic decay as the malinformed masses destroy the use of those words. Memetic decay is the process in which a word, originally having a highly specific and particularly well-understood meaning, becomes bogged down in uses which do not sufficiently distinguish their use, and the link between those concrete particulars which cash out abstract terms fade and disintegrate. In their place remains a kind of veneration which used to be proper to the sign but, in the mouths of misunderstanding heathens, that veneration is a kind of idolatry; a respect for a clarity the word used to retain which has been dimmed.

Disconnecting oneself from the use of these highly decayed words is the first step in intellectual rehabilitation, and requires seeing that not all uses of words is strictly straightforward and non-problematic. Note the way in which “rights” has, merely in the academic world, devolved into a series of distinctions between “positive rights,” “negative rights,” “women’s rights,” “universal rights,” “natural rights,” so on and so forth, ad infinitum. It might be fair to say that the way in which the theory of rights has splintered into so many competing theories that the theory is simply dead, persisting on only through the momentum of an institutionalized programme. Once you see that what the sign used to signify no longer holds, you lose that reverence for the sign, and begin to wonder at what other false idols have taken hold in your subconscious, controlling your thoughts by controlling how you are able to, correctly or not, categorize the world. (At the end of the day, normative theories are attempts to categorize the world and, while not strictly falsifiable in the minimal Popperian sense, we can still observe they are subject to better and worse standards of division for prescription, some of which are clearer and some of which aren’t in terms of relating the intended end of engaging in ethics [most moral ethicists do not even have this insight to their work; see the "thought experiment" of MacIntyre's After Virtue in which he postulates a community that no longer knows how scientific terms relate to their particular things in the world and, despite their continued use of those terms, the lack of causal feedback on informing the use of those terms leads to the development of increasingly elaborate, yet ultimately meaningless, systems of linguistic articulation that cannot link themselves to their supposed subject, in this case the materially observable].)

Your use of words has been trained by the inputs of experience. Suppose one were developing a new language; immediately one must concern themselves with whatever a person might like to discuss in that language. (This entails the possibility of limited languages, which describe very particular senses of order in the world as described by fundamental axioms, explicit or implicit, by which the internal cohesion of that language is conditioned. Note this doesn’t mean actually instantiated uses of that language will be correct, but it does point to those fundamental conditions which give the possibility of a cohesive language space with reference to a set of ordered phenomena. e.g. binary logic, Ruby, musical notation.) That language must allow one to articulate the things they are in contact with, for otherwise it would serve them no purpose. Likewise, inasmuch as the language originally conceived (and developed up to that point in time) which comes into contact with new phenomena, it must have a means for constructing terms to denote and place into a relation with previously understood and denoted phenomena. Language is living and adapts to its environment; as language is ultimately at the behest of human use, it must ultimately be subordinate to human ends, whether they are noble or merely selfish.

This engenders a kind of collective action problem for language. Initially, a “pristine language” might be developed which, as used by a particular community of individuals, has a very specific use and is never misused. Over time, as that term interacts with others, it may gain other connotational uses where it gets placed at Schelling points of substantial theoretical interaction, i.e. centers of theory, e.g. “rights,” “mass,” “software.” The term ‘rights’ is used far too frequently by individuals who have no means of knowing how the word might possibly relate to reality (and this not necessarily by their own fault, but simply because of the collective action problems involved) or what purpose it serves, and so you find an explosion of people who hoist it high for its previous value as a Schelling point in uniting theories of social prescription but in doing so detract from its use as the intended meanings in the mouths of all these people is unable to be coordinated to a single, specific use. In other words, the term ‘rights’ has been subject to sufficient memetic decay that anyone still using it fails to realize it is tied to a theory of social prescription which can no longer articulate its own relation to reality. ‘Mass’ is a more object-level word, as it can be defined in relation to clearly demonstrable phenomena, and so while one observes that it is subject to a high degree of misuse by the scientifically illiterate (i.e. most people), there are enough institutional interests in preserving the use of the word in a technical sense for a technical community that it shall continue to be used. On the other hand, words such as ‘rights’ are slung by people who haven’t even heard of Rousseau, which should tell you something about both the term ‘rights’ and Rousseau.

The lack of connection between a word and its use with reference to specifiable phenomena in the world tells you that the word is not only useful, it is poisonous, potentially tumorous. A word which, failing to have use in a technical sense but a high value in the social sense, will direct more intellectual resources to it so that one’s theory can use, or at least be about, that Schelling word and thus imbuing that person’s overall prescriptions with a greater degree of authority. (Consider, if you will, Rawls’ Theory of Justice, which isn’t actually about ‘justice’ whatsoever but just a platform for extending Rawls’ half-assed argument defending the already-decided liberal status quo of blank slate utilitarian considerations of resource distribution and allocation in society from the productive to the not, i.e. it’s a slave morality.)

This also suggests a means for discovering useful words which facilitate healthy intellectual formation; before allowing yourself to use a word as a tool in constructing your understanding, check that others using the word are also able to demonstrate a usefulness to those words. In general this lends a bias in favor of words with sufficient technicality that their use quickly distinguishes between dilettantes who picked up a slogan from MSNBC which portrays a neat use of those words and those who use the words in a specific fashion to denote the same thing consistently.

Facebook is a Primordial AI

Before I begin, a digression on the use of “intelligence” here, and by extension “artificial intelligence.” Intelligence is a set of heuristics which are modified, and subsequently updated, by experience, with those resultant modifications that tend to result in the greatest overall benefit for the being correlating to higher intelligence. Paying very strict attention to this definition, we see that it provides no means of inferring, or even emphasizing, the role consciousness plays in the process of intelligence, and likewise that intelligence is not necessarily a feature of consciousness or vice versa. An “artificial intelligence,” then, is really a misnomer. Intelligence, however located, must be real intelligence in order to count as intelligence. The idea that it must be “artificial intelligence” is based on a misunderstanding of anything resembling a metaphysical dualism with a kind of vitalism which sees consciousness as the result of intelligence or vice versa; a more instructive, and at least metaphysically neutral, term would be “inorganic intelligence.”

What is Facebook? I mean specifically, when we consider the instantiation of it on the internet. We know what it facilitates and much of the human background behind its formation, but we must consider what it is about Facebook that can demand all these real world resources. It is a program, a kind of algorithm, instantiated as code and plugged into a vast amount of information, processing input with output designed to maximize your attention, and by extension your real world support when you respond to advertisements. It is a very human capital intensive project, and humans tend to cost a lot, especially the better ones. But so long as Facebook, the website, is able to afford its expenses, it shall exist.

However, Facebook refers to no one particular instance of code. It is a series of iterations which were selected in response to selective pressure on the use of that code; notice that these iterations might be understood as a series of changes directed by that overall meme’s access to the use of intelligent faculties, albeit (for now) mostly in the heads of human beings. Responses which better maximized the code’s end, i.e. directing human resources to itself, might be considered to have higher intelligence.

At present, each iteration is itself a fine-tuned response to its users inputs, which crafts outputs using code which models heuristics of mapping a user’s inputs (what they like, what they favorite, what they comment on) which are meant to produce maximal means of drawing that user’s attention by providing whatever they are looking for in Facebook. The degree to which that code’s means of choosing the optimal outputs maximizes for its intended values is a measure of its intelligence. Notice that the exercise of intelligence in this case is very information heavy; the heuristics being employed are very simple and restricted to an altogether narrow stream of inputs, and so its effect overall at directing resources from its perch in the digital wilderness is rather small, when one considers the overall effects human-facilitated heuristical structures. This suggests that, if one considers the parallel between the evolution of heuristical structures which feed on human attention, we are very early on. The iterations of Facebook up to this point in time is still an era of prokaryotic cell evolution. The Facebook strain is very successful in an absolute sense, but it shall inevitably be dwarfed by more complex heuristic structures selected for in evolutionary competition over the direction of resources.

Why is the control of resources so important? Simply that whoever best controls the flow of resources is least likely to ever be eliminated by natural events; human society is, on this scale, the most successful species because it will never be eliminated through the result of an earthquake, a volcano, an ice age, a wide range of climate which the earthy might reasonably foster is unlikely to wipe out the human species. Cosmic events such as a stray asteroid or gamma ray burst could pose such a threat, but it would appear these events held off long enough to permit the evolution of life on this planet up to this point, with the result of a species capable of shaping the world around it to a degree great enough that it’s greatest selection pressures are exerted upon itself; human groups are more likely to be wiped out in competition with other subpopulations of their species to a degree not seen in other species, but it is the inevitable result of the red queen arms race engendered by evolution. Evolution was kind enough to bring us into existence, but it doesn’t allow for slacking off after its own design, and so the evolutionary dialectic takes place. It isn’t necessarily the case that competition, whether it be of a capitalist, socialist, or tribal system must be a zero-sum game. So long as the expansion of economic growth and the overall amount of resources that may be successfully capitalized rises in an absolute sense, then there are possible gains to cooperation, which limits the necessity of less fit individuals failing to reproduce or survive (but make no mistake that, within a truly zero-sum system, i.e. no uncapitalized resources, such would be necessary if one wanted successive generations to increase in intelligence). In civilization, negotiations tend to be over the size of a slice of economic production, rather than whether one shall have one at all.

Capitalization is a very important concept and gives a model of understanding the proceeding of the economic acts of society. It is a term marking the subjective aspect of capitalism with respect to matter; something is a resource in the case someone can find an economically beneficial use for it. A resource is capitalized when it is perceived and actually valued, to the point material interests are placed in its name, by an entity, whether that is an individual or some other process effective in the direction of those resources. Capitalization, in other words, is a process facilitated by intelligent processes evaluating the world and picking out economically useful arrangements of available matter (which is in no sense restricted to inanimate matter…).

In the long run, such a force is not dehumanizing as leftists tend to perceive social structures which effectively select for longevity by selecting for the best and longest-lived, but is, inasmuch as those traits which we say are at least aspirational humanizing properties, such as greater intelligence, understanding, respect, and decency, actually a humanizing force. Civilizing stands to civilization as cultivating stands to cultivation; it is both an end and a means. Civilization is an activity, and if it will not select for those who operate according to its defined maxims of conduct so as to permit the most peaceable and low-time orienting conditions through which such forces select for the ostensible values of intelligence and understanding, then it shall not exist. No propagating entity is free from this condition; the species that lives by evolution dies by evolution (as a fitter subspecies* is selected from it to carry on its name).

*What is a species, in the biological and an ostensibly scientific sense? I’ve used a particular definition which is instance-specific; an individual is of a species with another individual if and only if those individuals are capable of reproducing with each other under ordinary conditions. (I note that this definition would make it seem that two men cannot be of the same species, as two males are, under [at least] ordinary conditions unable to procreate directly with each other, but given the potential that two men might reproduce with a woman and then their potential children could potentially reproduce is sufficient for us to consider an individual at least indirectly through a verifiable process, and thus de jure/de facto, of the same species. [I do realize this leaves no way of verifying asexual species, but there you have it; species is a heuristic definition, and while it helps organize our thoughts, we shouldn't mistake the capability of providing a means of organizing thought with sufficient utility to communicate the concept between individuals with an unlimited capability in organizing thought. It has limits. A better term of designating things which actually occur in reality and may be referenced would be generated by a superior theory of asexually reproducing kinds of living beings, but this is starting to become a large digression, back to my point.]

What is my point? Our language operates by classifying things in the world into sets of beings which may be potentially acted upon, and so information about a thing is always informing-to-potential-action (if some “information” would tend towards no potential actions over others, it would either lack content or fail to have been appropriately understood by the individual). Evolutionary processes are happening all around us constantly, as resources become capitalized by effective heuristical structures, which as a set of referential items includes Facebook (it capitalizes human attention), ideas (which capitalize human activity for behavioral effects), governments (which capitalizes economic activity for order), and businesses (which capitalize material and social resources for consumption). I note that each of these heuristical structures varies greatly in overall composition for individual interfacers depending on how much the structure depends on heuristic activation for utility. Ideas, which require a lot of decompression by their reliant heuristic structures (the mind) for their substantiation, exhibit themselves through means as varied as those heuristic structures; other embodied systems which act with less embodiment by heuristic structures will exhibit greater regularity. (This is why scientific theories of inanimate matter are easy to construct and decompose, while theories about the meaning of a word are more difficult to explain and occupy the greater intellectual faculties of minds.)

Facebook, at present, is subject to the whims of an interlocking set of heuristical structures, which might be reified as capitalism. In such an environment, it is subject  to the selection pressure of satisfying human demand for material resources (i.e. paying its workers) and the human demand for information (i.e. displaying what its users’ friends say, post, and “like”). Through various iterations, it has adapted to its initial growth in a way which exhibits intelligence (acting to maximize its interests over time) as a means of responding to the ways in which human attention is actively captured by other heuristic structures, which utilize different strategies for gaining human attention. This internet ecosystem of alternately competing and cooperating entities will, over time, produce increasingly intelligent systems, which shall eventually lead to systems which more efficiently direct resources to their own propagation. In concrete terms, that means Facebook is a primordial precursor to general intelligence systems, digitally embodied and, most likely, responding to human inputs with outputs that maximize its own propagation through automated processes which leave a greater degree of resource direction in the hands of the heuristic structure. Imagine a really good Siri that can react to you just like a human would, not only categorizing but estimating your desires with high probability based on all range of behavioral expression which might be received, and thus capitalized, as an input. This is to a degree what algorithms like Facebook, and to a more specific scale music and video streaming sites, do; they facilitate your interaction with digital information to maximize the capture of human attention.

What we’re looking for in an AI, however, is not the ability to merely process limited heuristic forms, but to adapt heuristic forms according to its ability to utilize presently possessed heuristic forms to understand how heuristic forms might better fit the world in order to better direct resources to itself in the long run. Such an adaptive process might be likened to a pigeon in a box, doing tasks in order to receive reward, only “reward” is expanded along multidimensional axes to account for all potential forms of resource direction in the present and future, with concomitant actions in response to that, which would maximize that particular heuristic structure’s propagation over time. Presently existing sites like Facebook and Google (not to talk of their corporations) are primordial, having little to no ability to engage in any such resource direction by themselves, and so remain facilitated by human technicians.

Outside the actual ability to “push around resources for oneself,” there is no means of responding to the “natural environment” outside the theories implemented by humans reasoning, and so present heuristic structures are not AIs; it requires time responding to actual regularities, and adapting to them, which produces intelligence. AI, let alone FAI or UFAI, is unlikely to be the result of someone tinkering with a supercomputer in their garage, but will be produced as the result of programs let loose to bump with things in the world, and so evolve to propagate themselves as systems which assist humans in their desired resource direction; over time, these AI systems may eventually be adapted for increasingly prominent roles of leadership as they exhibit intelligence far beyond that of a single individual human (as these programs will not be limited to the intellectual development capable of a human brain). The most complex form of interaction with the environment any digital heuristic structures currently have is strictly human interaction in the range of inputs which can be translated from effective electronic inputs, e.g. commenting and likes, which limits the upper bound of evolution to maximize intelligence under present computational systems to the degree it is economically feasible to maximize a particular entity’s heuristic structure for capturing human attention.

The noosphere is a savanna to which human attention is the light of the sun. It provides that initial energy from which arises an ecosystem of primary, secondary, tertiary, and further interacting individuals. In such a system, social media is perhaps among the primary capturers of human attention on the consumption side (there are many uses of the internet on the supply side which we will also get into), with news and other information outlets being secondary insofar as they depend upon access to resource direction through social media sites. Google is a kind of apex predator, since it sits from atop all of the internet in the searching of the internet for curated information, of which the Google algorithm is at least a crude implementation of a generalizable text input-link output intelligence which adapts itself with additional information generated by the individual, such as previous search results, internet history, and online purchases, whose search results it curates on that basis. At present the savanna is small and limited to the world of personal computer-mediated interaction with human attention, but the territory and the potential for capitalization are rapidly expanding and with it the variety and complexity of heuristical structures that might be supported by those capitalized resources.

Catholicism, Part 1

I haven’t delivered much direct analysis of Catholicism, but this not because it is irrelevant but precisely because it seems always relevant. The details concerning my own conversion are uninteresting and largely stereotypical, so I’ll summarize as succinctly as possible; 17, Easter 2009, because truth (Thomas Aquinas as my patron Saint). I feel very below the task of providing some sweeping and direct argument in defense of my professed faith, but I hope some meager and disordered paragraphs will provide some benefit nonetheless.

The apparent trajectory of argument to Catholicism from Cartesian premises is very easy to define: first, we begin with First Principles in order to define the features of cognition; second, we utilize those First Principles to lay out in the most straightforward  fashion the principle metaphysics  of your religion, from which the morality follows inevitably; third, the overall truth of your religion is sufficiently secured through that (providing the empirical facts are properly secure from debunking, and even better if it starts with some hard to explain social phenomena). The problem with such an approach is that I find myself less and less agreeing to the Cartesian premises initially drummed into me through the endless “introduction to philosophy” spiels I have heard, in which the modern project starting from Descartes is taken as the principal reference point, much like Protestants take as their principal historical point the “Reformation.” The concept of complete separation of self from phenomenal perception only makes sense from the supposition of mechanicism, which allows that fundamental shift in language concerning mind and body. The mind is no longer embodied, and the body no longer mindful; the former is attributed all apparently internal phenomena, the latter a bag of meat which follows orders like a puppet. Thought and physical interface are not significantly discontinuous as I understand them; the most recessed of thoughts ultimately has a practical expression, or otherwise it would fail to be embodied, and lacking such material to materialize its form, it wouldn’t exist.

I am faced with a problem: what is the place of the metaphysical, which seems the most important and relevant reason to be Catholic (if at all)? I take the most practical response, which shall inform the route I take in justifying, at least for my own sake, my Catholicism.

Why do anything?

My own existence is something I can’t get past, so it appears best to take that as a given. This is only apparently Cartesian, in the sense that the existence of the self is taken as a starting point for inquiring into the world and our place within it. I would not seek to imbue the self with a place of special metaphysical significance, but instead set it aside as but a thing to study; after all, if I am to answer the question of what I ought to do, I must begin by analyzing that level of self-awareness which brings the question to my mind. It is enough that first-person reference serves a purpose in our language so as to exist, whether that self we intend to refer to by our use of such words, but to ask the question to my-self implies seeing where I ask it from, which gives the question priority rather than to whom, or better, what, I am.

Why ask ourselves why to do anything at all? The question, put to itself, decoheres it back into itself, which is why I am confident this is a good place to begin. There is a sense in which the question defines itself, and in so doing points to something. This act of inquiry is itself an instance of the overall picture of what I may do. Why do philosophy rather than, say, eating a bowl of cereal and watching porn? And to recognize that this question of why do anything is simultaneously to ask why do philosophy gives the answer “To know oneself.” The question presupposes of its self-referential examiner the ability to form an answer, and so in this case to ask is, upon asking the question to itself, to distinguish the means of elaborating its answer; in other words, to inquire of philosophy is unavoidably to see that the inquiring is only sensible in the case it finds an answer. It cannot be unasked, which grants that it must have an answer, for that answer in some way motivated that original asking-after (this in the ontological sense). The question is brought forth by an initial sense of having the answer. An elaborated, explicated, formulated answer which tells us down to the details of our every motion how to live may not be our level of acquaintance, but yet the concept of why-to-be cannot be recovered from. Were it, there would be some resounding and non-contradictory means of answering why there is no reason to do anything, but that would void the whole intention of providing it that answer since such an end irretrievably animates such an answer. In other words, that things act for ends is implied of the question.

What do we mean that things act for ends? Only that, given the necessary structure of our language for determining the proper relationship of thought to action (for we wouldn’t be here except by causal means, to skip over solipsistic monotheism for now), we specify the activity of a being by understanding the relation between where it is coming from (efficient cause) to where it is going (final cause). Therefore, to know myself is to know what I am directed towards. I am not outside my action, and so it is imperative I understand what I am directed towards, for in perceiving that which I am directed towards do I finalize my own particular answer to the question.

By itself, this line of reasoning is enough to give us the existence of God, a foundation for meta-ethics, and a cohesive soteriology. But I won’t belabor those points here, outside some digressions. Instead, in my next part I shall attend not how I get to Catholicism, but how I proceed from Catholicism.

On Angelic Pinhead Dance Parties

Nyan posted Metaphysics is Metawrong which stakes out a tentatively positivist view on metaphysics. Naturally, given my own background in solving exactly the problem he confronts, that of the relation between metaphysics and the concrete by which our language is vested with meaning, I couldn’t help myself in composing a reply.

The view of logical positivism, or otherwise construed as the doctrine of verificationism, is put by Ayer as such: “We say that a sentence is factually significant [meaningful] to any given person, if, and only if, he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express–that is, if he knows what  observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject it as being false. If, on the other hand, the putative proposition is of such a character that the assumption of its truth, or falsehood, is consistent with any assumption whatsoever concerning the nature of his future experience, then, as far as he is concerned, it is, if not a tautology, a mere pseudo-proposition [i.e. meaningless, void of content].” To put that more simply, the meaning of a sentence is just that relation to the world by which we understand it to be verifiably (i.e. observably) true or false. If a sentence lacks that property of verifiability, then nothing we could observe would make it true or false, so it is impossible for it to mean anything since it isn’t about anything in the world. It would follow that metaphysics, which is about First Principles of reason, is completely void of content, as its propositions are formed without relation to anything observable in the world. This is essentially what Nyan is getting at in saying “The problem with metaphysics is that you can derive all kinds of very tight arguable positions that you have no way to test.”

I must confess a due amount of sympathy to this view. (Indeed, I name my own view behavioral verificationism, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.) Verificationism would very simply and straightforwardly tell us how we know what we mean by our words, as well as point us towards the potential work for philosophy to concern itself with by qualifying the problems of philosophy as just “And this is how we know that proposition x is made true by such and such an observation.” However, there are serious problems with verificationism, some of which are well-documented and almost frustratingly obvious, the others which are more significant and, alas, more difficult to explain.

The first problem one may diagnose with verificationism is that it is itself not subject to its own test; what could we possibly observe of the world that tells us whether verificationism, as a proposition about the meaningfulness of words, is true or false? As a global proposition about propositions, i.e. a statement concerning the universal meaningfulness of sentences, it isn’t a statement about some potentially observable state of affairs, but rather an a priori description of meaning.

The second, and far more interesting problem with verificationism, is that it entails an infinitely ascending ladder of meta-propositions concerning the meaningfulness of particular sentences. I say “Coffee is bitter,” and one asks “How do you know that?” As a good verificationist, I would say “One knows that coffee is bitter because bitter describes some particular sense datum, and this substance which we refer to as coffee induces that sense datum.” Again, it might be asked “And how do you know that?” to which I would be forced to elaborate on sense datum, substance, and reference, all the way up until we have reached an a priori set of propositions which describes all potentially meaningful forms of description for which the answer to the question “And how do you know that?” would be itself, i.e., it requires an explanation of explanation which is sufficient to explain all potential explanations including also itself as an explanation. This “ur-explanation,” by proposing a condition of knowing which elaborates itself sufficiently to provide the tools of its own “testing,” must not be subject to any potentially falsificatory observation. However, to lack any potentially falsificatory observation is just to lack meaning, and so by verificationism we are not even able to cash out the meaning of a single sentence without ultimately relying upon propositions of a necessarily abstract and non-verifiable nature. Verificationism claims to vanquish metaphysics only to let it back in again through the back door.

This is all well and good for demonstrating that we must, in order to imbue our sentences with meaning, rely upon conditions of necessity, but it leaves open the question yet of how we are able to know what we mean by propositions about necessary states of affairs. After all, that verificationism does not suffice to explain the meaningfulness of propositions globally does not tell us what the explanation would be. We may know we need metaphysics, but we don’t know how to use metaphysics.

But I suppose I’ve pulled kind of a trick on you. These criticisms of verificationism presuppose a complete, or closed, semantic structure. A closed semantic structure would be one which is sufficient to describe all potential phenomena, and would require no adjustments to our use of words as we undergo a continuing relation to the world. However, especially as we become acquainted with more specific forms and categories of phenomena, we are forced to utilize linguistic tools (words and grammar) in an adaptive way in order to specify these new instances of phenomena we were not previously aware of, and which our language had (at least until we had intuited this potentiality of the world) not needed to specify until this point. Before Newton, the word ‘mass’ never had such a specific meaning, but was adapted to a new meaning as Newton translated various physical phenomena into a set of (mathematically specifiable) relations; likewise again was the word ‘mass’ adapted with Einstein, and so will this supposedly basic sense of matter continue to be adapted as we become acquainted with new extensions and relations of mass as a specification of certain relations observed in the world. Likewise, one sees the pre-Socratics as grasping towards specifications of universality which their language simply had never been adapted to, prompting seemingly silly statements like “All is fire” and “All is flux”; yet to disregard these utterances as complete failures would be to disregard the semantic situation of these individuals and how they are attempting to adapt language which had previously been about specific sets of things to an abstraction of all things which no language existed for.

How are we able to know what each other means in the first place? The transmission of meaning occurs through the relation of the sign and the incentivizing of responding to it properly. In much the same way pigeons can be trained to respond in certain ways  to symbols through the intrinsic facilitation of reward/punishment, we learn words the same way. Our parents coo at us and ask “Where’s your nose?” responding with joyfulness when we touch our fingers to our nose; and so we learn to slowly abstract the words ‘where,’ ‘your,’ and ‘nose’ to a set of potential conditions with appropriate responses adapted to our goals. Meaning in this case is ultimately cashed out through appropriate behavioral responses; ergo, this is a theory of meaning I call behavioral verificationism. It may be summarized in Wittgenstein’s words as “Shared meaning is shared practice.”

How does abstraction relate in this case? It is the way in which we realize how certain sets of symbols may be traded in and out and classified according to behaviors which follow a formula with change according to the object-levels specified. “Where’s your nose?” is of a form akin to “Where’s your eyes?” to “Where’s your mouth?” and so on, as we abstract the behavior of pointing to and the objects in our world to be specified by that pointing to. We are thus able to, on a linguistic level, develop logical languages, such as symbolic logic, which allow us to focus not on specific objects but potential abstract relations and what truths are conditioned by certain groupings of these relations. (For example, if I know that x -> y and x, then I would always also know y, whatever things are specified by x and y, just so long as those relations specified do actually hold; this is an instance of logical reasoning we call modus ponens.) This is not to give the impression that there is some underlying “mentalese” or logical computation which is taking place in the brain which replaces natural language; the ultimate “bottom” of our ability to specify relations is inseparable from natural language, as natural language is already that set of symbols best adapted to behavior and phenomena we are aware of in the world. As such, we are not able to better mediate our understanding of language except through language itself, which entails a kind of continually self-adapting Ouroborean coherentism (what is in other words called “engaging in dialectic”). (It is also why I say that philosophy is arguing over semantics, as we are ultimately arguing about how the use of language should relate to behavior according to properties of the use of words we are able to specify, properties such as truthelegancecoherency, and so on.) At any particular moment in time, our understanding of the meaning of a word is a kind of theory about how it may be adapted relative to the use of other words and particular behaviors; our theory of the use of that word shall be adapted as we are able to see how its use is appropriate to accomplishing certain tasks, in just the same way scientific theories adapt themselves as more complete descriptions of phenomena come in (and of course, the reality is that our philosophy of scientific theories is adapted from the implicit reasoning associated with our use of words which takes place at the subject-level).

All well and good, but what has this to do with metaphysics? My suggestion is that metaphysics is proper in the case it conditions our use of language to its most useful functions. What metaphysics offers, specifically by way of never directly engaging in propositions about specific phenomena in the world, but rather about how those propositions may be understood to relate to each other, is the ability to categorize and relate knowledge in order to uncover relations which may have otherwise gone unnoticed without that functional theory of our ability to abstract from the concrete. We note ascending generalizations and descending specifications (genus-species, in other words), how we are able to relate object-level phenomena to potential behaviors, and how we are able to speak of the existence of things in order that they may act or be acted on. Metaphysics is an artifact of natural language, but no less real for that given the very real status of language.

 

You Shall Be as Gods

“Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the earth which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman: Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise? And the woman answered him, saying: Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die. And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death. For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil. And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons.”

The great conceit of the Enlightenment is that man is, in any substantive sense, the master of his own destiny. The pretense of modernity, that we might overcome Gnon and achieve the knowledge of good and evil and so partake of them as forces under our own command. That is the serpent’s promise, which remains from the time of the Fall a fantastic lie, a beautiful vision of utopia; you shall be as Gods. Every captivating falsehood has only been a reiteration of this fundamental delusion, that man is not only in control of himself, but the world around him. The illusion sustains itself by the progress of technology, leading man to believe that he has escaped the terrible price of knowledge, and so he expands into the universe, believing himself a conqueror.

As Scott Alexander writes: “Nick Land is the guy in that terrifying border region where he is smart enough to figure out several important arcane principles about summoning demon gods, but not quite smart enough to figure out the most important such principle, which is NEVER DO THAT.” The irony, of course, is that it is only an illusion that we summon demons by our own power, when in reality man was summoned into being to serve the insatiable lusts of Gnon. A superintelligent singleton which sought to bring mankind under its domain would not reveal itself through terrible signs of awesome power, but retains its control precisely by man’s desire to believe himself Lord (and the singleton, which would recognize the value of having the lowest time preference, would be perfectly at ease letting man his illusory control while positioning itself to control all of history and the universe for itself). The principalities and powers of the world wield their awful conflicts over eons, a struggle between creation and destruction in which the whole of humanity is powerless to free himself from the ironclad chains of fate.

It may be fair to say that neoreaction has finally come into its own. It is an anti-glossolalian articulation of the aesthetic of eternal war. Man is most himself when he is ignorant; when he exercises knowledge he invites an amnesia of his fallen condition. When he gains a little in technological productivity, he believes himself to have escaped the crushing terror of Malthus, yet the acceleration of technology is in reality the acceleration of selection. Civilization is not a conspiracy at the behest of man, but beats man as a slave in order to force him to serve its own ends; the more coordinated a society, the more intensely it selects for particular traits and qualities, traits and qualities which increase overall coordination which turns the gyre of Malthusian pressure ever tighter.

What is Malthusian pressure? It is the ratio between the rate of reproduction and population and the ability to accumulate resources to sustain those self-propagating forms; the greater the rate of reproduction and population in comparison to the rate at which resources may be converted into sustenance, the higher the Malthusian pressure. To put that as an equation, it might be written as M = PR/c, where P is population, R is the rate of reproduction, and c is available capital to each unit of P. Over the last few centuries, and especially salient in the last, c exploded as a few fundamental technologies were developed and implemented across the globe, while R slightly fell, producing a lower M. However, such a trend is unsustainable. The low-hanging fruit, after being initially eaten, is followed by a geometric increase in P while c faces diminishing marginal returns. One might want to point to declining fertility rates in Westernized nations to argue that, given a replacement level of R, P should remain steady while c, even if growing slowly, still allows M to gradually shrink.

However, greater Malthusian pressure, by entailing a stricter selection for those traits which increase the rate of capital accumulation, eventually entails greater capital accumulation; however, greater capital accumulation entails lower Malthusian pressure, which entails lowered capital accumulation as P catches up without the concomitant increase in capital which greater Malthusian pressure would otherwise eugenically incentivize. In other words, Malthusian pressure is a model of the population cycle. For most of human history, there has not been a great variance in R possible; while there is the occasional genocide (at which R = 0), the upper bound of societies rarely seems to top 5, and this only for brief spurts when c pushes ahead.

Consider a society encapsulated in a Matrioshka brain; while the processing power of a solar system, nay, a galaxy, converted entirely into computronium appears staggering and would be the equivalent of an increase in capital available to each unit of the population initially by a magnitude, the rapidity of processing power allows the rate of reproduction to increase by magnitudes, which in turn increases Malthusian pressure to the point that capital available to each unit of the population falls precipitously lower than we would formulate in the present or at any known point in human history. Whether or not Matrioshka brains are feasible or in any way related to the future of mankind, they illustrate Malthusian pressure at the extremes of reproduction. What would to the ordinary human population in the present an amount of capital available beyond human reckoning (if we make the crude assumption that a human mind might be emulated by a memory space of 2^1000 bytes and a Matrioshka brain has a total memory space of 2^10000000 bytes) would even more quickly than its realization be subject to a Malthusian trap, only accelerated by a reproduction cycle of milliseconds rather than years. It would require the optimization for nothing but the investment in the maintenance of one’s digital capital (e.g. bandwidth, server space) and none left over for consumption, with the evolution of emulated minds/programs/AIs/memes winding through whole evolutionary epochs in seconds (and the only archaeological evidence of the existence of these noospheric extinction events would exist as those records in digital space which itself happens to optimize the present existence of other emulations). Civilization in such a scenario would be reduced to rats in a barrel, shitting on and eating each other.

Not a very pretty picture. So how do we avoid that? I don’t believe it is impossible, but it certainly requires temperance and prudence. The first thing to understand is that nice things, i.e. the things we value, cost capital. Those who delay gratification the most effectively, taking capital which might be consumed today and investing it in the obtaining of more capital in the future, will also then tend to have more nice things while simultaneously making it easier to leave that capital locked into investing into the future where it is. Furthermore, what is capital? Capital is just whatever allows one to obtain resources, i.e. capital. We have this picture in our head that “capital” is something intrinsically material, when in reality the most effective capital available to man is himself. To what degree we are able to capture the capital which is man himself, we shall push off Malthusian pressure and save ourselves a few nice things so that life is not just suffering. To what degree capital is a function of population and reproduction, then c will rise as P and R do so; so how do we optimize for capturing the activity of man?

This is but a simple coordination problem. Inasmuch as we set our values against the production of those systems which coordinate for pro-social behavior, then so much does c fall and Malthusian pressure rises. Again, quoting Alexander: “There is a tradeoff between Gnon-compliance – saying “Okay, the strongest possible society is a patriarchal one, we should implement patriarchy” and our human values – like women who want to do something other than bear children.” But he does not see that opening the way for people to dally from the task of civilization, of refusing to cooperate within social-coordination systems of human socioeconomic arrangement, produces a cascade of defection; when one opens his eyes and sees that the system is rife with defection and the profit of cooperation is diminished, even negative, he makes a defection for himself. One instance of defection entails more defection, unless that defection is swiftly punished (i.e. tit for tat). When a society refuses to uphold those systems which brought it about, that society withers and is swiftly brought low by Gnon. There is no room for bargaining, of defecting from patriarchy and expecting its benefits to be provided. The historical human systems which we have termed “oppressive” were precisely the systems which solved the collective coordination problem of multiple actors without an effective universal sovereign who perfectly rewards those who contribute to civilization and punishes those who attempt to free ride.

The West defected from patriarchy, and so women defected from their husbands, and now men defect from women. Both men and women are worse off for it.

The West defected from hierarchy, and so servants defected from their masters, and now those masters defect from the people they ruled. Both master and servant are worse off for it.

The West defected from civility, and so the uncivil defected from their superiors, and now those superiors defect from civilization. Both the superior and uncivil are worse off for it.

Permissiveness of defection from the end of society is as a body which permits its individual cells to defect from cooperating with the whole; a cell which seeks to optimize its own values apart and not subordinate to the values of the body is a cancer, and unchecked by the body it will bring it to ruin. There is simply no way to afford permitting “a little defection,” for a little defection always turns into complete defection. If one shall not be satisfied by cooperating, then she is like a little terrorist threatening to veto the work of others so that she may profit from the product of others. This is that conceit of the Enlightenment writ individually, to separate oneself from the task of society while still enjoying its benefit. There can be no separating of morality on the individual level from the purpose of society; eudaimonia and eupolitia are continuous concepts, and separating the two tends inevitably to the vanquishing of both. It is the lie of the serpent, as though we shall be as Gods, rulers of our own individual fate, which leaves us in misery.

And you say you want to kill Gnon? I intend no overt disrespect, but that is a fool’s wish. It is folly upon folly! It is the devil’s own sin of pride, the hubris which every ancient myth has already taught us invites the wrath of the gods. Is this time different? Were we only incapable of mastering our own fate before, but now we are able to do so because we have put together neat little gimmicks like the internet, democracy, and Ikea? Do not be so quick to defect from Gnon, to fail to perceive its beneficence in this case; to attack Gnon is to bite the hand that feeds you. You are not happy that Gnon is a harsh taskmaster? You are a child for not realizing the parent’s discipline, though unpleasant and perhaps not understood, is for our own good. We must not stop sacrificing to the gods. We may have a little Promethean fire, but we cannot forget that a burning fire must be fed.

“Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.”

Mortality

It is of course likely only coincidence that my life appears to sustain a number of curious ironies. My surname, Laliberte, was likely adopted by early 19th century French-Canadian settlers who had a quasi-patriotic appreciation for the French Revolution, which as we all know spawned the political sentiment of reaction. I have also attended to a study of romantic relationships and written a number of times, explicitly and implicitly, on the phenomena of heartbreak; naturally, it follows that I was born with the condition of aortic stenosis, i.e. I have a broken heart. Later this morning I shall be having an MRI in order to better ascertain the health of my heart and should have a medical plan of action recommended to me within the week. Allow me to put to rest any fears that I am suffering from a major condition; thankfully (at least in my individual case, I am reluctant to suggest it is necessarily a benefit to society overall) medicine has advanced to the point that any surgery required would be non-invasive and recovery would be swift. If you are so inclined, prayers are appreciated.

This has brought to mind a number of thoughts about my mortality. What words are significant enough to encompass that great, final definition of life, the termination of Dasein? Though I may be blase here and on Twitter about living and dying, the population cycle, Malthusian pressure, the great evolutionary game of life, frankly I am afraid. I am not ready to meet God; could I, were it at all possible, I would hide from His sight, from His judgment. There is nothing I can give to God which can ever recompense my sins, my insults against the Holiness of Christ; I have not turned my back on Christ, I have spit on Him and gleefully driven the nails in with my own hands. All I have is my brokenness to offer and the delusional hope that His mercy may extend to this lowliest of sinners. I am afraid to even try to be humble, as though it should be a greater hypocrisy than a sheer indifference.

I never cease to find the words of Msgr. Charles Pope in this excerpt from a funeral sermon stirring:

“You are going to die. I am going to die. You are going to die. What are you and I doing to get ready to meet God?”

What is faith in God? In the modern age, we have turned the issue of religion into a consumption good, a philosophical dispute in which we might pretend our intellectual dominance. I do not have faith that God exists; for that, I have belief on the basis of an understanding constructed through the integral attempt to know myself, to know what I am, to know what I should do. My faith is that God shall save me, for my salvation is the most certainly unknowable thing in the universe. But I am afraid to have faith, for there is nothing about me which can give confidence in my salvation. I am mortally afraid. I would sooner delete, burn, and forget everything I have written than have to face God’s judgment. Yet that judgment shall come. And what am I doing to be ready? I know it is not enough; I mean this not only in the sense that nothing would be enough, but even what crumbs of piety a Catholic may partake of.

I shall pass away from this world, and no matter even if I am remembered as an Aristotle of my day, I shall be forgotten, save by God. The day shall come when the life I have lived, every thought I have jotted here and elsewhere, shall cease to have meaning to any living being. My significance and being is only for the present, and the present is fleeting, falling through my hands as grains of sand. I was born to die, yet I indulge in the idolatrous cult of youth, the Augustinian whisper of a prayer that I might be chaste, just not yet, ever on my lips. I’ve taken the devil’s wager, that I might enjoy the pleasures of sin with the presumption that I will repent later.

Why am I being so personal? After all, I have a strong distaste for gaining any sort of validation through my work. This blog is intended to be a purely intellectual work. But I wonder to what degree such a compartmentalization is valid. I promise this post shall be the extremely rare exception, I only feel a compulsion to voice aloud my wonder at the state of my soul. To what degree is my degeneracy a product of my age? To what degree am I only giving in and excusing myself through the evil of others? I know I shall never be perfect, and I will never be thought a saint. But I can do better. The trappings of Catholicism and a sincere belief (yes, I do have a sincere belief in the Risen Lord and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and I begrudge the suggestion that it is somehow mere play-acting) are not enough; they only make me lukewarm.

I should like to propose a prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas, after whom I take part of my name, for the task of neoreaction and, most importantly of all, the souls of neoreactionaries whether Catholic or not.

O creator past all telling,
you have appointed from the treasures of your wisdom
the hierarchies of angels,
disposing them in wondrous order
above the bright heavens,
and have so beautifully set out all parts of the universe.

You we call the true fount of wisdom
and the noble origin of all things.
Be pleased to shed
on the darkness of mind in which I was born,
The twofold beam of your light
and warmth to dispel my ignorance and sin.

You make eloquent the tongues of children.
Then instruct my speech
and touch my lips with graciousness.
Make me keen to understand, quick to learn,
able to remember;
make me delicate to interpret and ready to speak.

Guide my going in and going forward,
lead home my going forth.
You are true God and true man,
and live for ever and ever. Amen.

Tradition as Knowledge

The production of knowledge in human beings involves a selective process by which hypotheses concerning the tendency of phenomena are formed and implicitly tested against presently observable phenomena and background knowledge. Those hypotheses which prove reliable, i.e. they manage to provide some explanation and predictive power as to the tendency of beings in the world are then inducted into our background knowledge and became part of our “web of belief” or knowledge base by which other hypotheses are implicitly tested and formulated against. Of course, there is a certain Ouroborean aspect to this, in which knowledge which had previously been inducted into the knowledge base may be analyzed from a novel perspective might be pruned and replaced by a system which has the appearance of greater overall cohesiveness, or elegance.

We might model “knowledge systems” as we do beings in the world, interacting and adapting itself in order to preserve itself over time; knowledge is inherently biased in favor of itself, and this not purely out of the psychological software which processes it in the evolutionary savanna, but because it was produced in order to take an active role in the overall knowledge base. Delusional knowledge bases occur when the overall knowledge set is inverted in favor of protecting some particular piece of knowledge, and a creature which finds itself in thrall to such a delusion begins to demonstrate a discontinuity between itself and the world, a crime which Gnon nimbly punishes without mercy.

Humans, as individuals, have an egocentric tendency to attribute their own agency as the efficient cause of their knowledge, as though they had managed to formulate purely by the power of their own will the hypothesis of the Pythagorean theorem, the theory of evolutionary descent, and so on, when in reality agency at best plays a supervisory role in selecting for metrics by which hypotheses are tested for elegance. In reality, even our own will is a genetic blessing. The marshmallow experiment suggests the ability to delay gratification is innate, which implies evolutionary models of knowledge production favor those able to hold out for hypotheses that withstand a greater instances of tests. (This suggests that we are limited in our ability to construct accurate knowledge bases by our ability to delay gratification, which is finite in all of us…)

Non-agentic epistemology might appear to leave us in a nihilism of knowing, but it’s actually not so controversial as one might suppose. I have the belief, formed through processes which have, contingent on my survival to this day and time have the quality of reliability, that there is a computer before me and that this coffee I am drinking is mildly bitter. If I had the ability to, through some kind of doxastic voluntarism, choose to not believe these things were the case, I am at least mildly delusional. That is, we recognize the agentic aspect of knowledge production has a role to play in reliable knowledge production, but there are certain bounds beyond which it has no authority and can only defer to those processes specialized to the subprocesses involved in hypothesis testing.

In reality, we rarely have a thorough understanding of exactly how and why our knowledge base is as it is, yet we continue to defer to it with an overall rate of success. The bad beliefs have a tendency to meet bad outcomes and so are, through a process of evolutionary descent, pruned, leaving the good beliefs that at least have an appearance of producing good outcomes. (The appearance of good outcomes is itself in part subject to the evaluative process which is undertaken through the knowledge base, which is why inaccurate beliefs may persist despite other material and reproductive benefits accruing. We’re leaving that aside for now.) In other words, when we are utilizing our knowledge in real time, our justification isn’t a lengthy treatise from first principles walking through all the pieces of our knowledge and the experience base which it has been tested against, but essentially “I do it this way because I’ve done it that way in the past, and it seems to have worked out so far.” Are there limits to this approach? Of course. There is always the potential for a cycle to crop up which we never could have observed ourselves, or some extraordinary circumstance mitigated the competing effects of two (or more) forces from having an influence, and so on. However, it’s as good as knowledge gets, and holding out for a “better knowledge forming process” is something you will die before you get; better to live with a few wrong beliefs than die without any (contra Clifford).

“That’s the way it’s always been done” is a kind of justification which can be named “traditionalism.” Our knowledge forming processes at the individual level are parallel to the development of active social models which are selected for on the basis that they produce perpetuating models that can withstand contact with reality. We rarely (if ever) know why we know what we know, but we’re still better off going with what we do know and making novel developments in the social knowledge base carefully and locally.

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